The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

March 26, 2013

Homes of Hope releases homeless count

By Justin Jones, Staff Writer

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 — For 24 hours, Homes of Hope, its partner agencies and volunteers went throughout the county surveying the homeless population in Stanly County. The goal was to obtain an accurate snapshot of the demographic and causes of the homeless, while gathering a count of the population.

When the count was finished at 6 p.m. Jan. 31, they found that 66 people were homeless, equally split between being sheltered and unsheltered.

Homes of Hope released the results of the Point In Time (PIT) count Wednesday morning from the Partnership for Children Conference Room in Stanly County Commons.

Diane McClinton, Community Inn director of emergency housing, and Salem Taylor, program director for the Homes of Hope, led the meeting.

McClinton’s focus in leading this year’s PIT count was on meeting two goals.

“One of our goals was to increase the ‘unsheltered’ count and our second goal was to increase the partners to help us with the ‘unsheltered’ count,” McClinton said.

In order to increase that count, McClinton said that they passed out fliers in their target areas and utilized other homelesss individuals that were in shelters where the unsheltered homeless may be living.

“In January, we had an average of 12 people staying at the Community Inn each night. What I did was create a survey, surveying the homeless themselves to ask them questions about where are the ‘unsheltered’ homeless,” McClinton said.

The surveys were successful, but as McClinton said, “the homeless are a very secretive society.”

The count targeted five strategically placed areas in Badin, New London, Norwood, Albemarle and Oakboro.

After McClinton had laid the foundation for the count, Taylor broke down the results from the count.

For the sheltered count, the numbers were concluded from using the Community Inn, Esther House and transitional housing.

“It asked in the survey, as of that night, ‘How long have you been homeless?’ And the average was about 3 1/2 months,” Taylor said.

The top needs, as Taylor expected, were housing assistance and job training. Many others listed having ID card assistance as a top area of need because of constant transitions from one spot to another and the hindrance that a lost or expired card can be when applying for housing or assistance.

The 33 people found to be homeless and unsheltered were counted using surveys and secondhand information from people who were aware of certain homeless individuals.

Included in the 33 unsheltered, seven claimed to be veterans.

For this group, the average time of homelessness exceeded a year.

“The longer someone is unemployed, the harder it is for them to find employment,” Taylor said.

“From the ones that did indicate some of their needs, substance abuse and food assistance were pretty high.”

The survey showed that many cited their homeless condition was because of a mental health condition, substance abuse, physical illness/disability or unemployment.

Taylor said although certain groups did not fit the specifications as required by the PIT count, they did receive surveys from 11 people who considered themselves to be homeless that were sleeping at the home of a friend or family member or hotel room for the night of Jan.30.

Taylor and others that gathered for the meeting agreed that number is likely to be in the hundreds across the county.

Additionally, 12 applications are currently on hand for families with children to move into transitional housing.

“There’s a lot of people that we don’t count as homeless, that is a large group that need to be counted as homeless and doesn’t need to be perpetuated as they’re safe,” McClinton said.

“HUD (Housing and Urban Development) has a strict definition of homelessness and we can only count those that fall in their definition of homeless,” said Skeet Ayscue, Homes of Hope director.

“It would be interesting to know how many families with children cannot afford their own place so they’re living somewhere that is either unstable, there’s issues or they’re all sleeping in one bed,” Taylor said.

“Those kind of things are not included in any of this and is prevalent issue that we see all the time.”

In a previous press release, Ayscue said obtaining the number of the homeless population allows Homes of Hope and like organizations to obtain funds through grants.

“The better job we do in counting the homeless, the more leverage North Carolina has in applying for those funds. It also gives us a good picture of our local situation and some indications of what areas need the most attention,” he said in the release.

Taylor said as Homes of Hope continues to conduct the count annually, they are confident that they’ll find the homeless population to be more receptive.

“The more we do this every year, people get used to us doing it and it becomes an accepted thing,” Taylor said.

“They’ll know we’re not there to get anybody in trouble or anything like that, but that we need to know who is in the community and what their needs are.”